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General Assembly going rogue

StarNews, Wilmington

The preamble to the North Carolina Constitution says the very reason the document is being established is for “the better government of this State.”

We think that “better government” would include details like approving a spending plan before the budget year begins. Politicians often say we should run government more like a business. If our representatives in Raleigh want to hold up business practices as the benchmark, approving a budget on time would be a good start.

Instead, the Honorables … now are having to pass a second so-called continuing resolution to keep the government running. Meanwhile, school systems have no idea if they are going to have to lay off a slew of teacher assistants — a short-sighted proposal in the Senate budget that would continue the damage to our state’s schools that the Republican-controlled General Assembly seems hell bent on causing.

The problem is that instead of passing a basic spending plan, the Senate has packed its version of the budget with major policy changes, turning it into an unwieldy two-headed monster that may be with us into September.

Senators certainly have the right to set and change policy, but the state’s annual spending plan is not the place to do it. And a ripple effect is being felt across the states in municipalities and school systems.

As … the Fayetteville Observer pointed out, the Senate’s budget contains major changes in how Medicaid is run in the state, the firing of 8,500 teacher assistants and the hiring of 2,000 more teachers, changes in income-tax rates and the creation of new sales taxes.

Oh, we almost forgot. The Senate wants to eliminate driver education programs in our schools.

So the House — whose budget is 200 pages shorter than the Senate’s — can’t just look at numbers as it tries to reach a compromise, members must also try to understand the impact these policy changes would have on the state.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have major policy changes considered very early in the legislative session? Ultimately money will have to be appropriated based on those new policies. But at least then it would be the amount of money spent that has to be considered rather than the entire policy.

One solution would be to amend the constitution to set legislative session limits — one number for the regular session (the session we are in now) and another for the so-called short session, which occurs in even years. Such limits would focus the work of the legislature and likely prevent the end-of-session practice of adding new legislation to completely unrelated bills.

There are only four other states right now that have yet to pass a budget.

Will the state that brags it was First in Flight be the last with a budget?

The Republicans promised us they would run the government better than their Democrat predecessors. Passing a budget on time would be a big start.

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